Southern… Hospitality

A trip to the South. We loaded up the family and our two Foster children and hit the road for our annual trip to Myrtle Beach to see Doreen’s mom, play on the beaches and as an added bonus see several of my siblings and other relatives at the 90th Birthday celebration of my Aunt Kitty.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you I have never been a fan of the south. Southern hospitality gives me the creeps frankly, even people speaking of Jesus and the bible becomes a little sinister when said with a thick southern drawl. Now add to that traveling down in a mini-van with my lesbian partner and our now 5 black children. I hear banjos playing a tune with every gallon of gas I pump. Crazy I know and most people are content to just stare at us as we stop for a bite to eat at a fine North Carolina eatery like… Wendy’s. Then there are the others that seem to only be calmed once they see our license plates and realize were just passing through. Once we arrive safely in Myrtle Beach and are greeted by Doreen’s mom and smiles of several of her neighbors who seem to all know we’re coming down this anxiety always relaxes and we just dive into fun and frolic of a beach vacation. This trip took a twist though…
Doreen’s mom, Lynne, lives in a development with a small pool at the end of the road of matching Town Houses. The kids love it and they really love “Bobo’s pool.” Yesterday at the end of a crazy day which included a trip to the hospital with me and my bum gall bladder the kids wanted to go for a post dinner swim. We load up with towels and floating devices and all follow Cooper on his skateboard to the pool to find that the gate is locked. Cooper skates back to get a key and returns with a very angry Bobo. She keeps looking in disbelief at the locked gate insisting the lock had been removed. The before I know it she has stormed off to a neighbors house (the one who deals with the pool) and returns with this man and she is uncharacteristically pissed at this man insisting that this lock has been put back in without knowledge of the people in the development. The more this thin, shirtless, tattooed southerner tries to argue that the lock had always been there the more incensed Bobo becomes. As the man, who is now on a cell phone call with someone about the pool lock, walks away to get a different set of keys Bobo completely surprised me. She suddenly started saying things like, “of course when my grandchildren show up.” “What do they think the color is going to wash off into their precious pool.” “Norma’s kids are in the pool every other week and no lock…” “Let’s see how they feel when I put my unit on the market, I gotta get out of here.” Doreen’s mom, who has never even acknowledged a moment of inequality, was ready to take the management to task. When the man returned and discovered that his old key did work in the lock my children broke the ice that had frozen rock hard on Bobo’s shoulder with their pure joy at being let in the small pool enclosure. They charmed the man with their manners and pleasure, then they jumped in and swam the sun to bed.
Now, I am always quick to react to bigotry of any kind and assume that most negative responses are peppered with some sort of internal fear and ignorance. It’s been that way since I was pretty young but I found myself witnessing not a fight for justice, I firmly believe Doreen’s mom could give a rats ass about that fight, but rather a motherly instinct to protect what is hers. Her grandchildren.
As usual, this family vacation was filled with fun, adventure and happy children and plenty of Southern Hospitality.

Talk to strangers

Since I was a little girl I have loved listening to people tell their stories. I was always told by my mom to say “hello” and ask how people were feeling, it was just good manners. So imagine my confusion at the comment, “don’t talk to strangers.” How do you know if they’re strange if you don’t talk to them?

Last night I was fully engaged in a conversation with a stranger who is one of the New Jersey Transit conductors on the Midtown Direct line. This conductor and I have fun with each other in passing comments every time we see each other on the train, but last night I began a conversation in ernest with this stranger. Matt, my co-worker & friend, and I had nestled into our three seater with our beer and popcorn making the bench sufficiently unwelcoming with our bags and electronic devises strewn about, when another stranger bellowed that she had boarded the wrong train. I knew immediately she was a Long Branch passenger, gut instinct after living in South Jersey I can smell a native from 50 yards, I advised her how to get back on the right course and then came along conductor 793567 giving this girl a hard time for listening to me. After our Secaucus stop and setting Ms Red Bank straight our conductor flipped that seat and sat right down. It turns out our conductor wasn’t strange at all. She’s a mother of two grown children and a very young grandmother of seven! She has a strong commitment to God and a wicked sense of humor. She even has a name, Regina, a very nice name.

So I struggle with “don’t talk to strangers.” I know it’s a safety thing that I’m supposed to instill in my children but I’m not so sure that I want to give them that fear. There are so many interesting people out in this world, so many stories that can be told on a train ride, at the doctor’s office, or online for the public toilet…. you just have to engage your manners and listen. Maybe I need to teach my children the difference between wonderfully eye opening strange and danger?

In the meantime I’m sure my talking to strangers will continue to embarrass my young children just as I was at times embarrassed as a teenager by my mom. I mean think about that for a second, kids, particularly teenagers, getting embarrassed in front of a stranger. Maybe I’m the one that’s strange. Maybe I’ll never know for sure.

The new normal

Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
The usual, average, or typical state or condition.
adjective. regular – standard – ordinary – common – usual
noun. normality – normalcy – perpendicular

It’s hard to describe “normal” these days. Boys liking boys, girls liking girls, boys liking to dress like girls, * gay marriage legal in fourteen states, * first cousin marriages legal in twenty-one states.

In my own home normal is nearly impossible to identify. I climb in my bed most nights and snuggle not with my partner Doreen but with my eight year old low spectrum autistic son Cooper. Who can only really get comfortable in his own bed if all the conditions are right (temperature, feel of the sheets, lighting…) it’s a process of checks before determination is made. Is this normal? Many a morning I wake up next to my son and my clothes have soaked up overflow from the pull-up that has met it’s match at the bladder of my young man. Is this normal? Our oldest daughter Olivia carries around a menagerie of stuffed animals and a favorite blanket on my of her family adventures (the mall, the car wash, church…) without a doubt in her mind that this is perfectly normal. This is the same little girl who at six could knock back pills like a champion with years of experience having suffered from Bi-Polar disorder from the age of four. Is this normal? Our six year old daughter Ruby struggles with short term memory and reading & writing delays, but can make an incredible pot of coffee and will tend to most matters domestic… on her own terms. Normal? The kitten and the dog play fight, the bunny desires nothing more than to cuddle with the older dog. All very… normal?

I get on the train and make my very normal commute into NYC to work on a Broadway show, normal. Once at work I am plunged into a cultural hodgepodge of stage hands, wardrobe, hair, musicians, managers and artists; worlds never meant to meet, but in the world of the theatre must mingle because their worlds wrap tightly together to bring success. We have normal banter that would be to the horror of most Human Resource departments.

This every day life leaves me wondering about normal and how the statement “that’s just not normal” was ever created. So many strive to be normal, but I’d venture to say that their normal is impossible to find.

* Warning: all statistics are derived from the fount of all modern knowledge, Wikipedia.